The Commission on the General Conference has announced its decision to further postpone the 2020 General Conference of The United Methodist Church until late summer 2022. The decision, which was reached during the Commission’s meeting on Feb. 20, is due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, its effect on the safety of mass gatherings and global travel and the lack of reliable technology available to all of the delegates according to the release issued by the Commission.
It is the Commission’s responsibility to select the site and set the dates of General Conference. Further, the Book of Discipline requires the Commission on the General Conference to "take necessary measures to assure full participation of all General Conference delegates." The Commission concluded that mandate was not achievable by means of either an in-person meeting or a virtual meeting in 2021. The new dates and location for the Postponed General Conference are Aug. 29 – Sept. 6, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In response to the Commission’s decision to further postpone the 2020 General Conference, the Council of Bishops (COB) today announced that it is calling a Special Session of the General Conference to be convened online May 8, 2021. According to the call letter signed by COB President Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, the Special Session will be held in accordance with Division Two - Section II - Article II of The Constitution of The United Methodist Church as recorded in Paragraph 14 of The Book of Discipline (2016).
According to the Constitution of the Church, the Special Session of the General Conference shall be composed of the delegates elected to the postponed 2020 General Conference or their lawful successors. The Secretary of the General Conference will communicate with annual conference secretaries regarding the logistics of the Special Session.
In addition, the Council of Bishops and the Commission on the General Conference have agreed on a timeline of events that will create a pathway forward for the church in this time. This timeline includes Special Sessions of the Jurisdictional Conferences to be held virtually in July 2021 for the purpose of retiring bishops, announcing coverage of areas, and determining if or how many bishops will be elected in each Jurisdiction. Regular, in-person Sessions of the Jurisdictional Conferences will follow the postponed 2020 General Conference in the Fall of 2022 for the purpose of electing bishops, making assignments for the new quadrennium, electing members to General Boards/Agencies, etc. Under this timeline, General Boards & Agencies would maintain their current memberships until after the postponed General Conference in 2022.
How Today’s Announcements Affect the CTC
“As far as the mission and focus of the people and churches of the Central Texas Conference is concerned, our mission and Wildly Important Goal of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world remains paramount,” Bishop Lowry emphatically stated. “Our core values of keeping Christ in the center, focusing on the local church, and developing lay and clergy leadership continue to drive decisions, plans and ministries. Together, we continue to move Forward to a New Spring in our missions and ministries.”
|Bishop Lowry, shown here chairing a session of General Conference 2016, reminds all to Breathe Deep! Jesus is Still Lord and that our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world remains firmly in place following today's announcements.|
“As I’ve stated and blogged about many times in the last week or two, it’s been a wonderous joy to see all the ways the church is being the church in the wake of last week’s severe winter weather,” Bishop Lowry continued. “While these announcements will result in some decisions and actions needing to be made by the Annual Conference, it remains vitally important for all of us – individuals and churches – to keep being the church and reaching out to those in need, sharing the love and word of Christ and making disciples wherever, whenever we can.”
Among the 12 legislative items to be decided by the Special Called General Conference on May 8, is the retirement of Bishops. According the list put out by the COB, Bishops would be retired no later than 60 days following the adjournment of the Jurisdictional Conference (currently slated for July 2021). Bishop Lowry, who was initially set to retire in September 2020, had been slated to remain the CTC’s episcopal leader until Jan. 1, 2022 in expectation of an Aug/Sept 2021 General Conference and a possible November Jurisdictional Conference meeting. Today’s announcements would accelerate his retirement to this September. The South Central Jurisdiction’s Committee on the Episcopacy – of which Kim Simpson and Dr. Tim Bruster are members by virtue of the election as lead lay and clergy members of the CTC’s delegation to General and Jurisdictional Conference – will determine how the conference will be covered in terms of episcopal leadership following Bishop Lowry’s retirement. New Bishop’s will not be elected until the Jurisdictional Conference meets in a regular session in 2022.
Another consideration brought about by the announced continued postponement of the 2020 General Conference is when the Central Texas Annual Conference will meet in 2021, which is currently scheduled for Oct. 6-9 in Waco, Texas.
“I will be meeting with the Annual Conference Planning Task Force in the coming weeks to discuss a possible change to the dates of our Annual Conference meeting,” said Bishop Lowry. “With the called session of General Conference set for May and Jurisdictional Conferences pending in July, we have the opportunity to return to a more common time for our Annual Conference meeting, which will likely be done online again, like in 2020.”
Bishops in the United Methodist Church set the date(s) for Annual Conference meetings. It is the conference that sets the location. Please watch the conference website and Facebook page for more info on the 2021 Annual Conference in the coming weeks.
Protocol on Separation Not Part of Legislation to be Considered During Called GC
The purpose of the 2021 Special Session of the General Conference will be limited to gaining a quorum to suspend the rules for the sole purpose of allowing the use of paper ballots to act upon 12 pieces of legislation that would enable the church to effectively continue its work until the postponed 2020 General Conference is held in 2022. The Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation legislation, nor other similar pieces of legislation, will not be considered during the called Special Session of General Conference. While other potential amendments were considered, it was agreed that the 12 pieces of legislation listed in the COB release would enable the church to continue its administrative functions appropriately. Click here to read the 12 pieces of legislation to be considered during the special session.
“Our current Book of Discipline was never written with a worldwide pandemic in mind. When we became aware of the need for a further postponement, we knew that some action needed to be taken in order to free the church to operate and continue to fulfill its current mission until we could gather in person,” Bishop Harvey stated, noting that substantive issues related to separation and regionalization should be reserved to an in-person forum where debate, amendment, and discernment could be conducted with integrity and full participation.
COVID-19 Concerns, Access to Necessary Technology Primary in Postponement Decision
The Council of Bishops and the Commission on the General Conference have been working collaboratively to determine the best way for the General Conference to meet and maintain the Church’s current commitment to mission and ministry as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In making the decision to further postpone to 2022, the Commission determined that it was not feasible to safely hold an in-person meeting involving all delegates as currently scheduled for Aug. 29 – Sept. 7 due to a number of barriers, including:
The number of COVID cases continues to rise globally, with nearly 2.49 million confirmed cases the week of Feb. 15.
Vaccinations are not expected to be widely available this year in many countries, and new variants of the virus that may be resistant to vaccines are emerging globally.
International travelers to the U.S. must show proof of negative COVID-19 test results no more than three days prior to travel, but in many places, testing is not readily available or provided free of charge.
Visa services remain limited in some areas. There also remains the possibility that a temporary six-month visa bond program which requires bonds of $5,000 - $15,000 per person for residents of some countries could cost up to $2.5 million in bonds for affected delegates if the program should be extended beyond June.
The Commission’s decision was also informed by the report of the Technology Study Team appointed to explore the implications of options for accommodating full participation at General Conference. The Technology Study Team analyzed a variety of options, including an entirely electronic General Conference with participation from individual locations; an entirely electronic General Conference with delegates gathering at regional satellite hubs; and two sessions, with the first part being electronic and the second part in-person when it is safe to convene. None of these options were determined to be viable. Some of the concerns mentioned in the report regarding having a virtual session include:
Lack of infrastructure in some areas, including Internet access, Internet speed, and electricity,
Lack of technology for equitable Holy Conferencing,
Complexity of the legislative committee process,
Concerns about accurate credentialing and verification of identity,
Difficulties in seating reserve delegates properly,
Security of voting,
Safety concerns about regional satellite gatherings.
The study team did find that utilizing mail ballots to vote on emergency actions could help The United Methodist Church to address important, urgent matters through the General Conference. Their report recommended utilizing mail ballots for making a limited number of “Emergency Interim Actions” on which the General Conference delegates would indicate a yes or no vote for each item.
“The Commission shared the study team’s findings and recommendations with the officers of the Council of Bishops in a collaborative effort to jointly explore how this alternative might be utilized to address critical matters until an in person gathering of delegates can be safely convened next year,” said commission chair Kim Simpson.
Kim also noted that while the August-September dates in 2022 will mean that General Conference will be one day shorter than planned for 2021, they were the only option available. “We also deeply regret that these dates once again conflict with the start of the academic year in the U.S.,” Kim observed. “This is something a group of young adults had asked the Commission to avoid, but there were no other dates available.”
“I’d like to share my deep appreciation for Kim’s work and the work of the entire Commission on the General Conference in this process,” expressed Bishop Lowry. “I am grateful for their faithfulness and ask that everyone keep the members of the Commission in our prayers going forward. Please also keep in prayer our conference’s delegation to General and Jurisdictional conference. May the Lord continue to guide and support them as we all move forward to a new spring in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
If you have questions, concerns or comments about the legislation pending with General Conference, please reach out to the CTC’s 2020 delegation at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have questions or concerns about how today’s announcements affect your local church, please contact your District Superintendent.
Read the United Methodist News Report on the Postponed General Conference to 2022 here.
About General Conference
General Conference is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church. The assembly meets at the beginning of each quadrennium to consider revisions to church law, as well as adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. It also approves plans and budgets for church-wide programs for the next four years.